It’s so hard to believe that Die Hard is 30 years old this year. Bruce Willis has been saving his estranged wife and her coworkers from Hans Gruber and his ruthless henchmen for decades now and it’s still one of the most enjoyable action movies of all time. It was nominated for a few Academy Awards in 1998, the ones you would expect, like Best Sound Effects and Best Visual Effects, but that doesn’t take into consideration that the writing was top-notch and Bruce Willis takes you on an emotional journey unlike any other in that genre. All two hours and twelve minutes of that film are filled with action and set the standard for movies in that genre that come to follow.
When the movie first came out I saw it with high school friends and we joined the rest of the audience in cheering each time John McClane made it through another terrifying moment against the despicable criminals – they were so calculated in their lawbreaking. As time has passed and I’ve seen the movie again and again (and with the help of my two daughters’ critical eyes) I can see that they carefully set everything up to make the whole film an endless barrage of moments that keep you on the edge of your seat. McClane removes his shirt (and shoes and socks, after his seatmate in the airplane suggests that it will help him to relax after his stressful airplane flight) to clean up after his flight to see his wife Holly and without this ‘armour’ he is even more vulnerable when the first shots are heard. The very fact that he has flown to Los Angeles from New York to try and mend some of the damage in their marriage makes the audience care for him even more. And when he just doesn’t stop, despite grueling injuries and the terrifying thought that his wife could be in danger, well, we are there with him every step of the way. We are watching through our fingers as he continues to battle, despite everything horrible that comes his way, we are on McClane’s side until the last bullet and flash of a bomb.
Of course, throughout all of those horrible moments comes what Bruce Willis was known for at the time, his perfect comic delivery. He made “Die Hard” while he was filming the TV show “Moonlighting” and the dialogue seems as if it were written specifically for him, even though in the years since the film was released we have learned that he wasn’t the first actor they considered for this role. I’ve read that Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone were possible leads. Even Frank Sinatra was considered. I can’t imagine anyone else saying some of the things McClane said as he crawled through those air ducts or as he wrapped his battered feet on the floor of the barren office tower.
Some of those things are filled with language that isn’t appropriate for this post but he was under such strain at the time so we need to forgive him. When he called for help from the top of Nakatomi Plaza, they didn’t believe him and told him that the phone line was for emergency calls only. Just imagine… that 911 operator had it coming to her when he said he wasn’t calling to order a pizza (or something very like that, I’m leaving out a few words). Each time it seemed like things were going his way the cup is dashed from his lips. It’s maddening and exciting at the same time and so, so watchable.
Attention must also be paid to the dialogue that they wrote for McClane’s worthy adversary, Hans Gruber, because he was equally enjoyable to watch. Alan Rickman was so incredible in this part that you feel as if the writers were giving one snappy line to McClane and then one to Gruber like they were shelling out for Hallowe’en. His character is never at a loss, always a step ahead, and terrifying. When he and McClane cross paths he is able to quickly switch to an American accent and convince McClane that he is a victim – as if he were one of his own hostages! I almost always feel like shouting at the screen when this happens. He is ruthless, cool under the extreme pressure of their heist and is oh, so clever. When he is trying to convince Mr. Takagi to give him the code he says “I could talk about industrialization and men’s fashion all day but I’m afraid work must intrude.” in a voice that makes you believe that perhaps he might be willing to talk but he also might be willing to kill at any moment. It’s eerie.
The impact of McClane and Gruber’s fight to the finish might not have resulted in multiple Oscars but it does cause people to discuss whether or not this film should be considered a “Christmas Movie” every few years. I am firmly on the side of watching it during the holiday season – McClane is going home for the holidays, Holly and her co-workers are taken hostage during their Christmas party and the soundtrack includes classics like “Winter Wonderland”, “Let it snow” and Run-D.M.C.‘s “Christmas in Hollis”. It’s an absolutely fun watch and it has a happy ending – that all says Christmas movie to me. The movie has been listed in many ‘Best Of’ lists, it spawned a franchise for Bruce Willis, and his sweaty undershirt and police badge are now in the Smithsonian. (see image below)
If you search the Internet you will find t-shirts, Christmas sweaters and gifts with all of the best Die Hard quotes printed in various fonts. You can purchase a box set of the DVDs in a Nakatomi Plaza-shaped commemorative box (I’ve seriously considered it) and we recently added a graphic novel to the collection called A Million Ways to Die Hard by a group of authors and illustrators who have worked for Marvel and D.C. You can read it and find out what these artists imagine McClane’s life is like now that he is in retirement, or could have been like if he wasn’t dragged back into the world of policing to face a psychotic serial killer.
Die Hard and John McClane will be with us for years to come and I am thrilled. This movie goes out regularly throughout the year at all library locations and every holiday season we have requests for it to go home with someone for a special festive viewing. I know that I’m looking forward to watching it again, probably not exactly for the 30th time but I’ll take a minute to contemplate how much I’ve enjoyed it through the years and perhaps I’ll walk barefoot on the carpet for a while, just making fists with my toes, like someone I know.
— Penny M.